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CORE deserves a chance

Smedberg, Matthew | Thursday, January 15, 2004

So now they’ve decided to cut the Core program, and I’m sorry to see it go.The idea behind Core is that of a “liberal” education. Not liberal in the political sense, of course, but in the sense of “freeing” the student from the blunders that a professional degree or overspecialization can easily impose. In the propaganda that Arts and Letters spreads around to all who will listen, the trumpet of “liberal arts” is blown constantly. However, it seems that, where the rubber meets the road, the College thinks nothing of getting rid of the last place on campus where students are required to think over and discuss contemporary, real-life issues without the comfort of choosing the discourse they will be discussed in. Core, when taught well – and it was taught well in at least a few sections, including mine – forced a student out of his comfort zone. And, in some ways, this uncomfortable place where Core places you is the only place where genuine learning can occur.I’ve heard all the complaints, just like you have. I even have a fairly good sense of why Core, of all the classes that the University offers, spawns so many disgruntled students. Calculus and Organic Chemistry are supposed to be hard courses, taught by professors whose third language is English and who come from a culture where questions are discouraged. Students come to college knowing, many of them, that they will need to slog through classes like that. What’s not on their list of expectations, however, is taking what essentially comes to an interdisciplinary literature course, taught – or “facilitated” – by a professor who often is reading the course books for the first time himself, who feels that his time would be better spent doing research in his own field and who desperately wishes he had tenure so that he could pull rank on some adjunct professor and force her to teach the course instead.I readily admit that, in a situation where the professor does not want to be there, and the students have been convinced that the course is a colossal bad idea right from freshman orientation, there is little that anyone can do to rescue the boat before it sinks.But this does not diminish how saddened I am that the College has chosen to abandon its single biggest commitment to broad education. Is it really an argument against having a requirement like Core that neither professors nor students wish to stretch their minds around ideas that are not part of their own discipline? Is this not precisely what Core is for: presenting the academy with a chance to break out of the stagnant patterns of thinking which we all are likely to fall into as we specialize into our respective fields? This University owes it to every student that they be challenged to expand their intellectual horizons; and in giving Core the axe I say they have reneged on that debt.

Contact Matthew Smedberg at msmedber@nd.edu. The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.